At what point does a person become so passionate about honey bees that he decides to devote his life to making honey? Or baking the perfect loaf of bread? Or growing carnivorous plants? I’ve always admired people who had the guts and determination to exchange their white collars for green thumbs, move to the country, and pursue their passion of making goat cheese or growing organic mushrooms. There’s always an inspiring lesson to learn when you meet these mavericks of the “locavore” movement, and Sonoma County is ground zero for learning the difference between Safeway and the Sonoma way.
In a tiny town you’ve probably never heard of is a former nurse you probably never met who bakes some of best bread you’ve never tasted. A few miles north of Sebastopol in the town of Forestville is a tiny bakery called Nightingale Breads run by owner Beth Thorp, who swapped her nurse uniform for an apron and never looked back. It’s a good story, and best heard at the bakery while munching on Beth’s freakingly good Forestville French baguette, still warm from her wood-burning oven (6665 Front Street, Forestville; Wed-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm; 707/887-8887).
Jed Wallach, owner and master baker at Wild Flour Bread in nearby Freestone, is another proponent of the organic breads movement. It’s love at first smell when you enter his quirky little bakery that, despite its modest size, has been churning out beautiful loaves of hard crust breads from his burly brick oven for more than a dozen years. Jed’s vivacious staff of breadheads are quick to slice you samples of their wares (the double-chocolate scones are deadly) while striking up a lively conversation. You can’t help but waddle back to your car with a big bag of warm baguettes (140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone; Fri-Mon 8:30am-6:30pm; 707/874-2938).
GIVE BEES A CHANCE
You’d think one bee store per county would be enough, but Sonoma has three of them. You would be amazed at how many products can be made from the labor of honey bees—candles, soaps, lip-butter, jelly, hand salves, and honey straws are just a fraction of the fascinating array of products sold at the beekind shop in Sebastopol. It’s the ideal place for stocking up on unusual gifts (“Oh, a Beekeeping Starter Kit. Just want I always wanted.”) and discovering how little you knew about the symbiotic relationship between us and bees (921 Gravenstein Hwy South, Sebastopol; Mon-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun 10am-4pm; 707/824-2905).
FEED ME SEYMOUR!
When I was a kid someone gave me a Venus Flytrap as a gift and I was utterly fascinated with it. That a plant could trap flies and slowly devour them was beyond cool. So imagine my delight when I discovered California Carnivores Sebastopol, which houses one of the largest collection of carnivorous plants in the world: pitcher plants, butterworts, bladderworts, and my old friend the Venus Flytrap. The nursery is owned and run by Peter D’Amato, who has been growing carnivorous plants for nearly 40 years—and it all started with a single fly eater like the one I was given. If your kids think plants are boring, take ‘em here and introduce them to Peter. Boy are they in for a surprise (2833 Old Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol; Thur-Mon 10am-4pm; 707/824-0433).
A DAIRY TALE
If it’s been far too long since you’ve milked a cow, you’re in luck. At McClellands Dairy you can enjoy a relaxing day amongst the rolling hills of Sonoma County, breathing in the fresh country air while yanking on a cow teat. McClellands Dairy specializes in making organic European-style butter, and you can learn about the entire process if you sign up for a guided tour of their dairy farm nursery (yes, you can play with the adorable calves) and milking parlor. Be sure to inquire about the fascinating history of the McClellands clan while your there—it’s a classic American tale (6475 Bodega Avenue, Petaluma; 707/664-0452).
FARMERS MARKET FANATICS
In Sonoma County they don’t mess around when it comes to Farmers Markets. In the town of Windsor they actually host a parade—floats and all—to celebrate the opening of the Windsor Certified Farmers Market season (May 8th). Since 2001 the Windsor Farmers Market has been a Sunday institution, with thousands of kids and adults flocking to Market Street to feast on street food, browse the arts & crafts stalls, and stock on a week’s worth of fresh organic produce. If you’ve never been to Windsor’s Farmers Market you’re missing out on a classic slice of Americana, and via LocalGetaways you can even get a special rate in town at the nearby Holiday Inn Express Windsor (May-Nov, Sundays 10am-1pm; 707/838-1320).
Now here’s a rare experience you might enjoy: At one of the prettiest B&Bs in Sonoma County—the Vintage Towers Inn in Cloverdale—proprietor Mary Stuart offers her guests a unique opportunity to learn how to be a “locavore“ (one who chooses to eat locally and sustainably produced food). Her “Green Getaway” package starts Friday evening with a visit to Cloverdale’s Farmers Market and Friday Night Live concert in Town Plaza (a mere two blocks from the inn). A “Grow Your Own Vegetables” workshop is held Saturday morning in her garden, followed by a visit to local organic/bio-dynamic/sustainable wineries. After breakfast on Sunday morning guests are given a guided tour of Mary’s onsite demonstration vineyard—all for a special rate of $49 per couple when you book a 2-night stay through LocalGetaways.com.
For much more information about Sonoma County’s agricultural adventures—farm tours, farmers markets, dairy farms, winery tours, and much more—log onto www.farmtrails.org and download their “Sonoma County Farm Trails Map & Guide”, or call 800/207-9464 and ask Marie or Lynda to mail you a guide.